Everyone in the border and immigration world is familiar with the concept of exporting the border. This phrase was commonly used when I worked at the UK Home Office in the early 2000s. But what does it mean?

To export the border means to get access to good quality data about a passenger as early as possible in the journey. This is the nirvana state for border agencies, because dealing with an issue before travel is much easier and less expensive than dealing with it when the passenger is standing in front of you in the arrivals hall.

But in practice getting hold of rich, accurate data has always been a challenge. Airlines provide advance passenger information, but it is limited to the most basic biographic data. Some countries, including the United States and Canada, ask non-visa passengers to apply for electronic travel authorization (eTA), but that is biographics-only and free-form, leaving the door open to both errors and fraud.

The good news is that we are now on the verge of a new paradigm characterized by very early access to much richer data, including biometrics as well as biographics. As recently as two years ago, this would have been either impossible or prohibitively inconvenient. Not anymore.

Three recent developments in identity technology are bringing us much closer to the exported border we always hoped for:

  1. Until recently, facial recognition technology lagged other biometric modes like fingerprint and iris in terms of accuracy. But this is rapidly changing. According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the accuracy of facial matching algorithms has exploded in recent years, to the point where it is very competitive with finger and iris, and all three are many times more accurate than the naked eye. Border agencies now have the option of capturing the faces of passengers at convenient points in the journey for automated comparison against existing immigration records or passenger manifests. The Traveler Verification Service run by US Customs & Border Protection is an excellent example of this working in practice.
  2. Until the fall of 2019, app developers had access to the NFC capabilities of Android smartphones only, not iOS. That situation changed with iOS13, meaning that many if not all passengers are now carrying a powerful ePassport-scanning device in their pockets. Border agencies can now reasonably ask passengers to automate passport information submission, rather than rely on error-prone free-form typing. When coupled with instant one-to-one facial recognition, agencies can now access a biometrically secured identity before the passenger has even left home.
  3. As recently as the end of 2020, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) published its standard for a type-1 Digital Travel Credential (DTC). This is a derived version of an ePassport chip stored securely on the passenger’s mobile device. Now that the standard is available, we have the option to issue a secure, digital, internationally recognized credential that passengers can keep on their smartphone for future use, potentially for multiple trips across different borders.

Entrust is already bringing these three new capabilities together in practical ways. One example is the Chain of Trust project with Canada Border Services Agency, which aims to inform Canada’s future border strategy. Returning Canadian residents are invited to register themselves and their passport remotely in just a few minutes, from wherever they are, using only their own smartphone. They are then issued a DTC, stored in their device. On arrival at the destination airport, they use the same app to submit their customs declaration and then walk through a biometric lane using only their face as their identity.

Things are moving rapidly in the field of identity technology. If you’re waiting for the future, exported border, it’s almost here.

More information on Entrust’s Seamless Travel Solution is available here.